The Consolation of the Gospel
Pastor’s Window for September 2011
The Consolation of the Gospel
Beloved in the Lord,
There are two words of God in the Holy Scriptures. There is God’s Word of Law, and God’s Word of Gospel. They are both God’s Word. They are both true. But they are different. The Law tells us what to do and not to do. The Law shows us that we are sinners. The Law always accuses. The Law always kills. The Law always condemns. The Gospel, on the other hand, shows us what God has done about our sin. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to take our place, to fulfill the Law for us, to suffer and die for our sins, and to be raised from the dead for our justification (Rom. 4:25). The Gospel grants us forgiveness and cancels our guilt. The Gospel raises to new life. The Gospel grants eternal salvation.
Therefore we need the daily consolation of the Gospel. We need God’s daily declaration that all our sins are forgiven on account of Christ. That means that we should be in church every Sunday to be absolved of our sins, to hear God’s Word of life, and to receive the Word made flesh in His true body and blood in the Supper. That means that we should be in the Scriptures each day in private and family devotions. And that means that we should know how to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. The Law is important, too, so that we know what pleases God and what angers Him, and especially so that we know how desperately we need our Savior, Jesus. But we must not rely on the Law for salvation, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20; ESV). The Law can offer no consolation. Only the Gospel consoles sinners who need refuge from their sin.
The Law cannot console because we have never done enough to fulfill it. The Gospel consoles because it gives us Christ, who has already done it all. To paraphrase the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (one of our Lutheran confessional writings in The Book of Concord), Article V:46-47: The Law always accuses, because after all, who loves and fears God enough? Who has enough patience in times of trial? Who trusts God enough? Who faithfully loves and serves the neighbor enough? We must confess with St. Paul that even as baptized Christians, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:19). So it goes in this sinful flesh, and so it will go until we are rid of the sinful flesh. As long as we live in this fallen world, in this fallen flesh, we will struggle and fight against sin. Only in heaven and the in the resurrection will we be rid of it. Until then, the Gospel is the only remedy for the old Adam. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25).
In fact, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Baptized into Christ, you are outside the reach of the Law’s condemnation. You are outside the reach of the devil’s accusations. You are outside the reach of the claims sin, death, and hell make on you. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4). All of that is to say, Christ has become our stand-in. He took on our human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and in that flesh He fulfilled the Law for us. Perfectly. He fulfilled the Ten Commandments. He did not break one of them. He loved God with His whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and His neighbor as Himself (Mark 12:30-31). In fact, He placed His neighbor, you, above Himself, for in His holy flesh He suffered and died for you, to pay for your sins. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Now that’s good news! That’s Gospel! Because that means that in the place of all of us who have never done and can never do enough, Christ has done it all! All our sins are forgiven! And we have eternal life! Consolation, indeed. Live in it daily, beloved. Rejoice! You are free.